How often have you told someone, “I wish I hadn’t thrown out that old such and such, because now it’s a collector’s item. I could probably get big bucks for it.”

True, if you could put every trendy thing you’ve ever bought into a time capsule for 50 years, you’d have a pretty handsome retirement fund. No matter how cheesy a thing seems in retrospect, it eventually rises again — just look at the current renaissance of pink plastic flamingos and Plymouth Valiants.

One of the interesting things about fashion trends is that the bigger they are, the harder they fall, and the bigger they are when they come back. In the mid-1950s, for example, cars with tail fins were the absolute pinnacle of style. Within a few years, finned cars were so ubiquitous that people got sick and tired of them, and they became an embarrassment instead of a fashion statement. Today, of course, these same cars are valuable collector’s items, and the more outlandish, the better.

The same applies to architectural styles and domestic decorating trends. During the ’60s, for instance, no fashionable living room was complete without an ultra-square, ultra-uncomfortable sofa flanked by clunky table lamps with shades as big as garbage cans. Along with these went a sleek wooden cabinet typically combining a lousy radio, a lousy turntable, and four lousy speakers — an apparatus known as a “hi-fi,” for those of you weaned on CDs. By the ’70s, though, all of these very swingin’ accessories were migrating to landfills by the millions.

This same holds true for every fashion cycle: Pretty much anything that’s coveted in one era will be despised in the next. We tend to think that our own time — that is, the present — has some kind of special immunity to bad taste, but that’s simply not true. What we find to be unassailably tasteful today will be hated kitsch soon enough. So, you Arts and Crafts aficionados — watch out.

Curiously, the same mysterious forces that create and then destroy fashions also invariably bring them back again, whether we like it or not. Hence, some of today’s hippest folks are outfitting mid-century modern living rooms filled with just the sort of junk I was denigrating earlier. This means it won’t be long before my own particular nightmare comes true, and those incomparably clumsy, ugly and gross furniture designs of the 1970s start showing up in hipster magazines.

The fact that everything — even the stuff we hate — comes around again might suggest that we pack all our discards in Cosmoline and wait around for 50 years. Some of us might actually do this if we had the room. For the most part, though, we just learn to let go of things and assume that somebody, somewhere will keep a few examples.

Knowing this may help prepare you for the moment, 50 years from now, when you hobble into an antique shop and find that that crummy Ikea desk you took to the dump now sells for $5,000.

Show Comments Hide Comments


Sign up for Inman’s Morning Headlines
What you need to know to start your day with all the latest industry developments
By submitting your email address, you agree to receive marketing emails from Inman.
Thank you for subscribing to Morning Headlines.
Back to top
Only 3 days left to register for Inman Connect Las Vegas before prices go up! Don't miss the premier event for real estate pros.Register Now ×
Limited Time Offer: Get 1 year of Inman Select for $199SUBSCRIBE×
Log in
If you created your account with Google or Facebook
Don't have an account?
Forgot your password?
No Problem

Simply enter the email address you used to create your account and click "Reset Password". You will receive additional instructions via email.

Forgot your username? If so please contact customer support at (510) 658-9252

Password Reset Confirmation

Password Reset Instructions have been sent to

Subscribe to The Weekender
Get the week's leading headlines delivered straight to your inbox.
Top headlines from around the real estate industry. Breaking news as it happens.
15 stories covering tech, special reports, video and opinion.
Unique features from hacker profiles to portal watch and video interviews.
Unique features from hacker profiles to portal watch and video interviews.
It looks like you’re already a Select Member!
To subscribe to exclusive newsletters, visit your email preferences in the account settings.
Up-to-the-minute news and interviews in your inbox, ticket discounts for Inman events and more
1-Step CheckoutPay with a credit card
By continuing, you agree to Inman’s Terms of Use and Privacy Policy.

You will be charged . Your subscription will automatically renew for on . For more details on our payment terms and how to cancel, click here.

Interested in a group subscription?
Finish setting up your subscription